In August 1977, Polish director Roman Polanski fled the United States to avoid facing jail time after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor in his Los Angeles home, drugging her with quaaludes, and sexually assaulting her. The United States government is currently demanding that Swiss Police extradite the acclaimed director of such films as “The Pianist” and “Chinatown”, from his home in Gstaad, Switzerland in order to carry out his sentence behind American bars. As of December 6, he, his wife and two children refuse to leave their chalet, exchanging house arrest for jail time after surrendering $4.5 million in bail and any and all identification papers to the Swiss police.
With the case back in the public eye, one can’t help but feel conflicted regarding how this event is being handled. Though everyone understands that rape is heinous, worldwide debate arises as we are forced to ask ourselves: is it ethical to buy, rent, enjoy, or even watch movies that were directed by a confessed child-rapist?
by Rachel Hart
Although Polanski’s accomplishments as an artist are undeniable, his danger to society as an untreated sexual offender cannot be ignored. The U.S. Department of Justice released a statistic stating, “Sex offenders were about four times more likely than non-sex offenders to be arrested for another sex crime.” Although the reoccurrence rates of crime such as car theft are increasingly common, the devastation factor of the crime is much higher for sexually abused children then that of recently robbed car owners.
Polanski is a great artist; his work seems to touch and shake the collective psyche of his viewers. He is a man that understands pain and sadness at an extreme level. Despite all this, he is inevitably a criminal. He confessed to “destroying the life” of a 13-year-old girl and fled to avoid responsibility for it. To support his movies is to support his cowardice over the terrible things that he has done. Put yourself in the place of the parents of a young Samantha Geimer. As your daughter recovers from an awful act that will define her for the early part of her life, Polanski continues to make movies and live a life of freedom and enjoyment. Where do you believe the justice lies?
Samantha Geimer, the victim, publicly forgave Polanski in 1997. In the New York Daily News she is quoted as saying, “I have survived, indeed prevailed, against whatever harm Mr. Polanski may have caused me as a child.” At first, this may seem good reason to give Polanski a break, as even the victim has forgiven him. Geimer’s motives were most likely not to simply free Polanski of any responsibility, but to try and live a more normal life free of media scrutiny. Besides this, Geimer was 45 when she made this statement. After much therapy and time, Geimer more than likely wants to put the awful event behind her.
It seems that these days, crime cannot stay contained in Hollywood. On February 9, 2009, Chris Brown violently beat his girlfriend and well-known singer Rihanna. Brown reportedly put her in a headlock and punched her several times, causing massive bruising and facial damage. Finally, he began to strangle her, pulling his arm tighter and tighter as Rihanna tried to fight him off. Rihanna survived the attack and immediately pressed charges. The music industry was in an uproar, leading many fans to swear off supporting Chris Brown’s musicianship.
Understanding that Roman Polanski raped and abused a 13-year-old girl, it seems no stretch to believe that this same kind of uproar would follow such an incident; strangely, there was no discernible public reaction. Today, Polanski continues to make movies and money. This is all thanks to his many devoted fans who apparently find his art so significant that his reprehensible acts warrant justification.
For upwards of thirty years, revered filmmaker Roman Polanski has been on the lam from US authorities, traveling only to countries that have a low likelihood of extraditing him.
Polanski was finally caught on September 26, 2009 while attending a film festival to collect an award in Switzerland. Swiss police, at the request of Los Angeles authorities, took him in. After posting his $4.5 million bail, Polanski now rests comfortably in his home. While Switzerland decides on the terms of the extradition, it appears as if Polanski will not be serving real jail time anytime soon.
Polanski’s next steps should be to come forth and deliver a statement that would define him as compassionate to his peers. Thanks to his many supporters and fans, he, as of yet, has no reason too. Every time a devoted fan buys a ticket to one of Polanski’s films, they are supporting the escaped punishment of a rapist. That is a price people need to be unwilling to pay.
by Laura Mandanas
Is it possible to separate a work of art from the artist who created it? From a consumer standpoint, this is the root of the Polanski problem. Or in the hip hop arena, the Chris Brown problem. Or in classical music, the Richard Wagner problem. Assuming we do not endorse pedophilia, domestic violence, or anti-semitism, can we still in good conscience appreciate the artistic work of a pedophile, perpetrator of domestic violence, or anti-semite? I say yes. The asshole is separate from the art.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m fully in support of bringing lowlife Polanski to justice. Child rapists belong in prison — not to mention that it’s illegal to jump bail and evade the authorities for three decades. The idea that hundreds of celebrities are signing a petition demanding his release makes me physically ill. But am I taking his movies off my Netflix queue? No way.
Here’s the thing: Bad people don’t necessarily make bad art, just as good people don’t necessarily make good art. For example, let’s say the long lost solo pop album of Mother Teresa suddenly pops up on the market. As far as we know, she has never had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a child. Beyond that, she was what everyone understands to be a pretty actively good person; we’re talking enlightenment, here. So do we expect Mother Teresa’s singing abilities to blow Michael Jackson’s work out of the water? Well, probably not. It just doesn’t work that way. Art may be reflective of certain aspects of its creators but doesn’t define them in the end. As such, it ought to be judged by its own merits.
If we universally accept Polanski’s films as brilliant works of art — and he’s won an Oscar for best director, so it’s safe to say that there are a few people who would agree with that assessment — this is irrelevant to our feelings on fugitive child rapists. In the creation of a Hollywood film, there are many people involved — some of whom exhibit behaviors that we support, some of whom do not. All of them are inevitably on a payroll. Is it reasonable to expect consumers to research the personal lives of every director, producer, actor, costume designer, foley artist, lighting technician, and so on, before putting down $15 on a DVD? Even if we were to figure all of that out every single time, it’s difficult to say what percentage of profits will wind up in any given director’s pocket, let alone all the other people with creative input on the film. How far down the line can we go before a boycott becomes meaningless?
In modern day Hollywood, studios are the ones who end up with most of the money when a film succeeds. Spending money on a film is not a vote for a particular artist’s lifestyle; it’s a vote for the type of films that will receive funding from the studios in the future. If we want to fight rape, surely there must be a better way to do so than by not watching Polanski’s films.
Appreciate the art, and condemn the crime. Simple as that.